When Joe Alfonsi broke into the voluntary benefits industry 15years ago with Unum, he was given a seemingly impossible quota —and was strongly advised to focus his sales efforts on blue collarworkers.

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As the voluntary benefits market was once considered the domainof the working class, carriers often positioned them as affordable,valuable products for underinsured lower- and middle-incomeearners.

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“Times have clearly changed,” said Alfonsi, who now runs TriBenInsurance Solutions, a Philadelphia-area agency specializing insupplemental and voluntary benefits. “The value of voluntarybenefits goes way beyond a certain type of worker.”

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Eric Silverman told a similar experience: When he broke into thevoluntary industry more than 16 years ago, at the ripe age of 19,with Aflac, he, too, was told to channel his energies toward thelabor class and other “rank and file workers.”

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Silverman, who is a both millennial and a voluntary marketveteran, said he quickly gravitated away from the notion thatvoluntary's value was limited to lower- and middle-incomeworkers.

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In his first year, Silverman, today the CEO of Baltimore-areavoluntary agency Silverman Benefits Group, closed his first dealwith a 500-life, multi-facility health club.

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He oversaw the enrollment, which went well, he said. Soon after,however, he received a call from the CEO's personal assistant. Theboss was angry, the assistant told Silverman, and demanded animmediate meeting.

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The CEO wanted to know why the young broker did not take thetime to enroll him and the company's other executive leaders.

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“I didn't have a logical answer, except to say that I assumedthe leadership didn't need any voluntary benefits,” saidSilverman.

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Adamant, the CEO looked Silverman in the eye and delivered amessage that would help shape the broker's ultimate success.

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“He told me he'd worked his tail off for two decades buildinghis company, and he wouldn't be offering his workers voluntarybenefits if he didn't want or need them for himself,” saidSilverman. “He'd had a personal experience with a family member'sillness, and was dead set on his need for a voluntary cancerpolicy.”

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In the end, Silverman retained the client and the CEO'sconfidence — he still services the group — but that lesson from ahighly compensated and highly educated executive was the mostlasting benefit.

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“I completely disagree with the notion that voluntary benefitsonly serve the needs of lower- or middle-wage earners,” Silvermansaid. “It's something I'd say I'm passionate about. It was clearfrom the earliest days of my career that the customers calling withclaims questions were often well-compensated and highly educatedindividuals.”

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Selling to the C-suite

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These days, the growing awareness and popularity of thevoluntary market runs counter to the notion that the benefits arebest suited for lower-income earners, said Silverman.

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But that doesn't mean that all products serve all employees inthe same way.

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For higher-compensated workers — company executives, lawyers,doctors, etc. — voluntary benefits are great for protecting assetsand lifestyle, Silverman said. For the workers under theseexecutives, benefits tend to protect more immediate health andwelfare needs.

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Not only are the C-suite's insurance needs essential toconsider, they are fundamental to the overall success of anorganization's benefits program.

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“When I go in to enroll a group, the first people I address arethe company leaders,” Silverman said. “I sit down and conduct thesame one-to-one educational session as I would with any othermember of the group. We don't even take on an enrollment unless thecompany's leadership are the first to be seen.”

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Stop clinging to pastperceptions

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Data from Eastbridge Consulting Group show that voluntarybenefit policy ownership is directly proportional to householdincomes, according to senior consultant Nick Rockwell.

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Thirty-two percent of households earning less than $25,000 peryear in income own at least one voluntary product, according to a2014 Eastbridge survey.

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As household incomes rise, so, too, does ownership: Forty-sixpercent with income between $25,000 and $50,000 own a voluntaryproduct, and close to half of all households with earnings of both$50,000 to $75,000 and $75,000 to $100,000 own a voluntary product.Above $100,000, ownership sharply declines to 36 percent.

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Moreover, those in management and sales and marketing positionsare more likely to own a voluntary policy than laborers:Forty-three percent of respondents in management own such a policy;46 percent in sales; and 38 percent of laborers. Of all employmentsegments, skilled craftspeople show the highest rate ofparticipation, at 55 percent.

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“Our research suggests that, as employees earn more, they aremore likely to take advantage of the protection offered byvoluntary products,” Rockwell said. “It's difficult to say thatvoluntary programs are somehow more valued by blue collar or hourlyemployees. Even if 'blue collar' were defined by occupation ratherthan income, the [voluntary] industry simply is not just bluecollar — we have a wide variety of blue- and white-collar earnersbuying voluntary today.”

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Nonetheless, Rockwell said, it's likely that many brokers willcontinue to cling to an antiquated notion of the utility ofvoluntary benefits for workers in all earning classes.

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“Even those with voluntary experience may limit their salesfocus on what they feel is the only market segment likely to buy,”Rockwell said. “It becomes an ingrained view — almost like musclememory, but more of a dated philosophy at this point.”

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